ON A WINDY morning this March, as the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments about the health-care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hundreds of people of faith gathered in front of the court building. As part of a public witness, they prayed and carried signs that proclaimed “People of Faith for Health Care.” Participants came from various faith traditions and denominations, many of which also signed an amicus brief in support of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. The event was organized by two interfaith coalitions, Faithful Reform in Health Care and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) Health Care Working Group.
The groups involved were motivated not by political beliefs but by a moral imperative, shared across faith traditions, to build a just society that cares for the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, and “the least of these.”
Those who gathered believe that their prayers on behalf of the uninsured were heard when, almost three months later to the day, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA. Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote with the more liberal justices led to the unlikely majority that provided a major step forward in the century-long struggle for health-care justice in the U.S.
Numerous faith groups praised the decision. Faithful Reform in Health Care and the WISC Health Care Working Group issued a joint statement, signed by 53 national, state, and local faith organizations, saying that “people of faith have worked both individually and collectively to move our nation toward a more inclusive and just system of health care,” one “that offers health, wholeness, and human dignity for all” and is “affordable, accessible, and accountable.” They added, “We applaud the U.S. Supreme Court justices for upholding the law.”
The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church said that it “celebrates today’s Supreme Court decision” because the denomination’s “historic position that health care is a basic human right is informed by our biblical and theological witness. Everyone should have health care.” The ACA, the board said, is “a huge step in the right direction.”
The Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK announced it was “extremely pleased” with the decision: “This health-care reform law is a positive response to the undeniable moral imperative that health-care access is a human right. Upholding it means that the U.S. continues to be a land where citizens are entitled to the most basic health care.”
While praising the decision, faith groups also recognized the need for continued advocacy for the law to be fully implemented. Faithful Reform in Health Care and the WISC Health Care Working Group called on Congress to refrain from further attempts to derail the legislation. They also affirmed the role of faith groups in ongoing efforts to educate the public about health-care reform: “We are eager ... to inform our faith communities about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and to get uninsured persons connected to the health care they need.”
Thus, the Supreme Court decision moves the country one step closer to health-care justice—but more steps are still needed. Many faith groups still hear the prophet Jeremiah crying out, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Full implementation of the ACA, and more, is needed to move the U.S. closer to the ideal of health care as a basic human right for all—and to the day when our prayers will have truly been answered.
Cynthia Johnson-Oliver (@CJohnsonOliver) is a national organizer for health-care advocacy for the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church.
Image: Health care road sign, Pincasso / Shutterstock.com